Mind & Body
Seeing the Signs
9/1/2020 1:00:00 PM

Seeing the Signs

American Sign Language (ASL) is our country’s third-most common language, according to Sign Language Services International, where Dr. Daniel Burch serves as Vice President. Burch has become quite a recognizable figure in Louisiana, sign language interpreting alongside Gov. John Bel Edwards during his COVID-19 press conferences. 

Burch says opportunities abound to work with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, as he has for 47 years. "I tell everybody you cannot see God’s hand in your life until you look back. In college I was working with a special education program, and my first day they gave me two Deaf kids to work with. They hired a woman to teach us how to sign, and she really became like my second mother. It came to me as a gift.” Burch has signed with governors since Gov. Charles "Buddy” Roemer. But prior to 2020, has had never signed the word ‘coronavirus’ for the public.

"I love interpreting for (Edwards) – he’s got such a lovely pace,” Burch said. "The challenge I have is I get there early to see who’s speaking to always spell their names right when they come up to the podium. Also, some speakers speak really fast, so that’s a challenge to listen that fast and try to understand what they’re saying to be able to interpret it, or they use specialty jargon, which people just don’t use on a regular basis.”  

Burch said about 75 certified interpreters currently serve a Deaf population of approximately 4,500 in Louisiana; therefore, employment opportunities are immense. A bachelor’s degree is required to become certified – different from when his career began.

"Through the years, Deaf people have been going to college in droves and now are in every single profession you can name,” Burch said. "So as interpreters, we must have a better vocabulary and understanding of the world to be able to voice-interpret what they’re signing.

"You can really travel if you become proficient in ASL – there are Deaf people from America in positions around the world. There are plenty of jobs in education; there is more work out there than there are interpreters to fill the jobs.”

Burch’s best advice for someone starting in the field? "Read everything, watch the news, soak up all the information you possibly can!”

Christa Foolkes, M.S., is Coordinator for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing & Vision Departments at the Calcasieu Parish School Board’s Department of Special Services, serving over 125 students specifically with hearing loss. Her interest in working with the Deaf community sparked in third grade, watching sign language videos with her mother as she pursued a master’s in Deaf Education and attending Mass at Lake Charles’ Catholic Deaf Center.

"It is fun to learn sign language, but it’s even better when you can use those signs and actually communicate with a Deaf child or Deaf adult because you’re now a part of their world and they have another friend – someone else to communicate with,” Foolkes said.

Rev. Aubrey Guilbeau, chaplain at the Deaf Center, agrees. He learned ASL as a seminarian and has provided religious services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Lake Charles for 38 years.

"The Deaf have taught me so much,” Guilbeau said. "They don’t see their deafness as a barrier. I’ve been so appreciative to learn from them and be able to help them communicate and share in worship.”

Foolkes also teaches a Sign Language elective class to McNeese students (SPED 440). If you’d like to learn ASL, she recommends a self-paced online course from Dr. Byron Bridges. Access it at www.signlanguage101.com. 

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